The Flare Path: Your Display Is Pepper

By Tim Stone on September 9th, 2011 at 2:03 pm.

This BA pic and Nicholas Kove are linked. How?

In the game development playground, wargame and sim devs are easy to spot. They’re the ones sitting on their own in quiet corners with noses in history books. They’re the ones transfixed by warring ant colonies, feathery vapour trails, and distant trains. This conspicuousness and level of distraction makes them soft targets for playground predators. This week’s Flare Path commences with a tale of despicable bullying.

Bully Beef Stew

Recall Battlefield Academy, the bright and breezy tactical TBS launched last year by Matrix Games? Unusually for a Matrix title it was 3D, cute as a button, and as easy to penetrate as a Vickers Light Tank. I rather liked it, slapping a 76% rosette on it when asked for an opinion by PC Gamer UK.

At the time of release there was talk of add-ons. Those add-ons never materialised. Now we know why. Notorious schoolyard bruiser Electronic Arts Esq. had Matrix/Slitherine/BBC in a headlock. Apparently the hulking brute didn’t like the first part of BA’s moniker. The name BA had inherited from its ancient Flash game father made EA so mad that it threatened to (excuse legalese) ‘biff-up’ the bespectacled youth if it didn’t change it immediately.

Brow-beaten and scared, BA did just that. This week the game relaunched as Battle Academy. The sterling efforts of EA’s legal dept. means that band of Battlefield™ enthusiasts that like to purchase electronic entertainment without first a) reading a description, or b) looking at screenshots, can continue to do so without fear of accidentally purchasing a refreshing WW2 strategy game.

The climb-down means Slitherine-Matrix are now free to publish their first add-on. I haven’t seen the press release yet but I’m guessing Operation Market Garden tasks you with turning round a failing fruit & veg growing business. Success probably involves scouring Eastern Europe for cheap labour, and covering the countryside with unsightly poly tunnels.

Either that or its focus is the bold Allied attempt to grab a series of Dutch bridges in September, 1944. In that case you can probably expect a host of new units including Red Berets and Screamin’ Eagles, a fresh campaign sequence, extra MP missions, not to mention the odd tulip field and windmill. The new BA demo is strictly a Normandy affair but it does let you have a shufti at the Arnhem mission prefaces. Like the original ones, they’re constructed from splendid “Share this amongst you, squareheads!” Commando-style art. BA might have surrendered its ‘field’, but its stylish swagger remains.

Unity Isn’t Unit-y

I’ve just found the secret key combo in the Red Orchestra 2 beta, the one that unlocks the camera. With a spin of my mousewheel I’ve gone from staring at sandbags, snowflakes and Schmeissers to looking down on the entire Ost Front. Through ragged cloud and smoke haze, I can see the Axis’ perilously overstretched supply lines, the vulnerability of Stalingrad to encirclement, the vast forest west of Kharkov planted in such a way it spells out ‘Wake Up Tim. This Is A Dream’.

Bah. That’ll teach me to wind-up a long day’s gaming with back-to-back sessions of RO2 and Unity of Command.

Unity of Command is an almost-complete TBS from dinky Croatian studio 2×2 Games. Tomislav Uzelac and a handful of chums have been toiling away since 2007. Having sampled the fruits of that toil, the years look to have been well spent.

Happily, this isn’t one of those Eastern Front monsters where plotting a turn’s worth of movement requires the patience of Sophia Tolstoy. Neither is it the sort of game where you ‘re forced to spend hours perusing a pdf before issuing your first command. Moments after the beta installer had finished unloading its Opel Blitzes, I was happily pushing Panzer divisions towards a heavily defended Voronezh. It was only when, half an hour later, I realised that most of those divisions had been ruthlessly cut-off and culled, that I reached for the manual.

It turns out beneath the Playmobil visuals and friendly UI, lurk some challenging subtleties, some pleasing historical truths. Ignore supply considerations and troop quality factors, and your chances of getting Army Group South as far east as Stalingrad are zero. Playing the Axis campaign, I quickly came to realise that control of the rail network was vital, and that my numerous Hungarian and Romanian divisions couldn’t fight their way out of a soggy paperbag.

I also learnt to respect the silicon mind marshalling the Soviet forces in my path. 2×2 appear to have created a beast of an AI. With a few more sessions under my belt, I may start spotting flaws, but right now the way in which enemy units exploit gaps and seek to split and pocket my attacks, is positively humbling.

Definitely a project the perpetually-circling Flare Path Fieseler Storch will be keeping an eye on.

A Streetcar Named Dire

A responsible simulation/wargame correspondent would wrap-up this week’s Flare Path with talk of BMS 4, a fan-made update for Falcon 4, years in the making and staggering in its scope. He’d talk of the finely honed flight models, the refurbished graphics, the added aircraft, the campaign and avionics advances. He might even muse on why, 13 years on, there’s still a sizeable community willing to put time and craft into Microprose’s landmark sim.

Sadly, I am not that correspondent. Not this week anyway.

I’m the sort of incorrigible moonraker that would rather babble about his adventures in Bus & Cable Car Simulator San Francisco. I’ve only spent two hours with this singular creation thus far, but crikey, what a two hours they were. It all started in a little apartment on Powell Street…

To click ‘start’ in BCCSSF is to pass through a looking glass, a wardrobe stuffed with musty fur-coats. You emerge into a flat so gloomy and squalid even Max Payne and that geezer out of Kingpin would raise an eyebrow. It seems the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency don’t pay very well. Either that or drivers routinely blow all their wages on liquor and (that fluorescent blue bottle in the corner can only contain one thing) mana.

Finding the door, I stepped outside just in time to see a hatchback drop forty feet onto the blacktop. After landing, the plummeter drove away nonchalantly. I decided to follow its example and – guided by on-screen prompts – climbed into a pick-up truck – my pick-up truck – and turned the key.

Immediately it was clear that I had failed to secure the vehicle properly overnight. Someone had clearly broken in and stolen The Physics and The Sound. Finding myself at the wheel of a whispering hover-car I decided to liven-up what was plainly going to be a very long/dull journey across town to the bus station (TML’s Frisco is vast) by running some red lights and rear-ending some AI automobiles.

This turned out to be moderately entertaining. Hapless victims were left propped against lamp-posts, or riding each-other like copulating beetles. A few were so discombobulated by my attacks they flashed their hazards for a few moments before vanishing like popped soap bubbles. Would the same fate eventually befall my own ride? It seemed unlikely. However much havoc I wreaked, the pick-up remained pristine. The bastards that took the physics and sound, had obviously swiped the damage model too.

Being a simulator, BCCSSF ultimately tired of my hooliganism and decided to halt it in a time-honoured fashion: I was awarded the ‘Smack, Boom, Bang’ achievement. Dispirited, I parked my  soulless/scratchless steed in the middle of an intersection and decided to proceed on foot. This proved to be an inspired decision.

Within minutes I’d discovered that the pedestrian-me could ghost through certain cars, and burst onto bendy-buses by running at their rear windows, front windscreens, or concertina-like midriffs. One unfortunate vehicle found itself with a fleshy figurehead – a figurehead that could, simply by moving an inch forward or back now and again, stop and start the bus whenever it pleased.

Once bus baiting became boring I went in search of more exciting playmates. The pretty cable cars that rumbled up and down certain streets didn’t disappoint. The first time I was struck by one I was pushed waist-deep into the road. The second time, I found myself dropping through a vast empty void beneath the city. Say what you like about TML Studios’ choice of themes or commitment to realism, but when it comes to grandiose metaphors they are maestros.

The descent ended as abruptly as it had begun. In a flash I found myself standing on a street corner, a stone’s throw from the scene of the accident. Chastened by a glimpse of the abyss, I vowed to behave more responsibly in future. I vowed to return to my pick-up and continue to the bu… WOW!! YOU CAN KICK BINS ABOUT BY RUNNING INTO THEM!!

The next 20 minutes I’d categorise as my Bin Phase. I bowled them along boulevards. I kicked them down alleys. I shoved them in front of cars then watched, giggling, as those cars pushed them for block after block. I stood on them, disrupting traffic. I attempted (unsuccessfully) to derail trams with them. My bin phase was beautiful.

It would have gone on for much longer had I not been run down by another cable car. No tarmac wading or fearful freefalling this time. On this occasion the impact knocked me into a bizarre underworld a few feet beneath the bustling streets. I could look up and see the underside of passing vehicles and the foundations of buildings, but, try as I might, I could find no way of returning to the surface. Caught in this demi-world, this subterranean limbo, I wandered lonely and confused for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably nearer 26 minutes.

Escape seemed close when, exploring the voids beneath the SF Cable Car Museum, I discovered I could push my head through a cellar floor. Sadly, the rest of my body refused to follow. Perhaps this was a test. Perhaps I should have picked-up that bottle of mana.

Was it courage or desperation that caused me to continue searching for a way out of that troglodytic hell? I’m not sure. Whatever it was, my exploration and experimentation did finally pay-off. Running at a particular corner in a particular way, I was suddenly topside again breathing the sweet air and basking in the warm sun. I vowed to behave more responsibly in future (no more bin-kicking). I vowed to return to my pick-up and WOW!! I CAN BUY SUNGLASSES AT THIS SHOP!!

It was soon after I’d purchased the sunglasses and realised I didn’t know how to put them on, that I spotted the sign. Propped on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street was a sandwich-board emblazoned with the sort of provocative personal slur that no self-respecting BCCSSFer can let pass:

“Your display is PEPPER.”

I couldn’t help myself. Incensed, I ran over and started kicking the sign down the street. The first three kicks went like clockwork. It was during the fourth that the pavement turned to quicksand and I found myself falling… falling…

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40 Comments »

  1. Abundant_Suede says:

    Great article, and a welcome return to the sort of things I love about RPS after the week of contentious pieces, but it was really trippy for me until I realized we were dealing with *two* different games here that melded almost seamlessly into the other. I had a “wait, what?” moment when trying to figure out how the street level simulation fit into the tasty hex grid strategy game.

    [Edit] Dealing with 3 games actually, but the first two were so similar I didn’t pick up on it. I have to cut back on drinking during the day.

  2. fallingmagpie says:

    Have they stolen the music from Skyrim for that BCCSSF trailer?

  3. Shadrach says:

    Those screenshots are hilarious, maybe time for a break from driving-sim hell next time eh Mr. Stone? Unity of Command looks interesting, and at least a bit more accessible than War In The East.

    Also, BOO to EA for being the evil corporation we’ve always known them to be.

  4. pepper says:

    I find the title very offensive!

  5. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    As a very new RPS follower and massive aviation geek who missed his opportunity to correctly identify the Blackburn Beverly in the previous Flare Path by several days I am disappointed that this edition does not feature an obscure inter-war bomber in the title picture. Please rectify this by starting next week’s article with a picture of a Martin B-10.

    Love and kisses,

    Capt. Eduardo del Mango.

  6. Jamison Dance says:

    “They make it unnecessary hard!”

    Thats.
    What.
    She.
    Said.

  7. HexagonalBolts says:

    The trailer was looking pretty flash until it flashed up on the screen ‘THEY MAKE IT UNNECESSARY HARD’

    I don’t get why people who spend money making adverts don’t just ask any English speaking person in a forum, or anywhere really, what the correct English is…

    But that aside what a great article!

  8. edwardoka says:

    Despite the fact that the bus game is very clearly broken, it seems quite compelling nevertheless.
    I was going to download the demo, until I discovered that I have to download a file called BusCableCarSimulatorDemo_German.part1.part1.part1.exe

    Yeah, won’t be doing that.

  9. JFS says:

    Is that Inception: The Game down there?

  10. distantlurker says:

    Tim, Friday afternoon is now a Win!

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Regards,

    DL.

  11. Lambchops says:

    Hilarious stuff, Also it “I wandered lonely and confused for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably nearer 26 minutes.” was a Darkplace reference then thumbs up.

  12. jonfitt says:

    Q: What software do I need to install BMS? The installer is asking for the location of the original Falcon CD. What if I have Falcon 4.0: Allied Force? Will that work?

    A: You need the original Falcon 4.0 and the BMS installer. F4:AF will not work.

    AAAaaargh!

  13. leeder krenon says:

    1260 PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION STOPS.

  14. RadioactiveMan says:

    Bravo, Mr. Stone, Bravo!

    Your review of BCCSSF made me laugh unnecessary hard, and you’ve brought Unity of Command onto my radar.

    I love that 2×2 Games is making an attractive looking wargame. The screenshots remind me of Revenge of the Titans, which is not a bad thing. And there is apparently some weighty business going on behind that pretty front? SOLD.

    • Tim Stone says:

      I doubt the WitE crowd will be impressed by the level of detail, but I think 2×2 have most of the important stuff (logistics, weather, troop quality/experience, terrain, etc) well covered. Bizarrely, considering the name, the only aspect that seems a little thin is command modelling. There’s no attempt to simulate historical commanders, for example.

  15. The_Great_Skratsby says:

    The cut to black after the minor bus collision at 3:35 in the trailer made my day. Glorious.

    • Dozer says:

      Minor? MINOR? The bus drove into the back of a stationary vehicle. Let me tell you from direct personal experience, my friend, this is not considered minor by bus-operating public transport organisations.

  16. Colthor says:

    That is the best trailer ever.

  17. Hodag says:

    Wow…that Bus Car Streetcar Walking Teleporting sim is something isn’t it?

    The thing that blows my mind is the amount of work and polish that went into the map and the modeling/texturing. It’s like they had a AAA art team and programmers whose education came from the back of a cereal box.

  18. Electricfox says:

    Is Roy Cross the link, Tim?

  19. Daiv says:

    This is one of those regular features I really enjoy reading but rarely have a comment for, and I’d feel awful if this feature dried up and went away because of perceived lack of interest by number of comments…

  20. MadMatty says:

    So is Battle Academy the new Close Combat?
    I´ve been trying to find a snazzed up replacement for that game series, for years now, after having some great campaign games of CC3 & 4 in multiplayer.

    I was looking at Theatre of War, but the series has gotten some dodgy reviews…
    Achtung Panzer is unfortunately single player only, that game seemed to had what im craving.

    Edit: ah Battle Academy is turnbased- im looking for a slower Realtime Strategy multiplayer WW2 thing….heres hoping theyll put MP in a future version or expansion for Achtung Panzer

  21. Ricemanu says:

    With all the ridiculousness the Bus simulator presents, it strangely is exactly the kind of game i´d like to play, with some exceptions. (Negative achievements, matrix bugs… and i dislike the part about being punished for fast driving. I always turn/cheat that off when i play truck simulators) But the whole idea of enriching a game thats about driving busses and trams with those little things and a walkable environment, a private car etc, really nice. Too bad those small simulator guys will never be able to have a production value of something like GTA IV and make some kind supercharged The Sims: Realistic simulation. Or maybe thats just the dream of someone playing way too much video games.

  22. spelvin spugg says:

    I’m curious as to how well these types of turnbased strategy games sell. It seems like there’s a steady trickle of them over the years, from Steel Panthers onward. Anyone have any idea?

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